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Avoiding RAM Starvation: Getting Optimum Performance in Premiere Pro

Something I wanted to share for all you “build-it-yourself” users. Recently, I helped a customer build out a really beefy system – 16 physical cores, plus hyperthreading, 24 GB of RAM, Quadro 5000, etc.

The system wasn’t rendering well at all. Bringing up the task manager was showing each processor only hitting about 19% – 20%. My MacBook Pro was actually handling the same tasks MUCH faster.

This was a classic case of Processor RAM Starvation. With Hyperthreading turned on, the system was showing 32 processors, and there wasn’t enough RAM to drive all those processors! Some processors had to wait for RAM to free up, and the processors that finished their calculations had to wait for THOSE processors to catch up. It’s a really bad state to be in. With multiple CPU’s, everything has to happen in parallel, so when some threads take longer to finish, everything comes to a screeching halt.

I turned off hyperthreading, and suddenly, the system started to just FLY – all the CPUs were being utilized effectively and roughly equally. Render times were over 10-20x faster.

I can’t stress enough the need to ‘balance’ the system to get proper performance. There’s never a danger of having “Too much RAM”, but too many processors is not necessarily a good thing!

You can check this on your system – using the stock effects, when you render previews or render your output files, you should see all the CPU cores being utilized. They won’t exactly be used the same amount, but roughly, they all should be about the same for common tasks.

Also, a BARE MINIMUM amount of RAM I recommend for Premiere Pro is 1GB per core. If your budget can afford it, 2GB per core is pretty optimal for a Premiere Pro system. 3GB per core isn’t required, but isn’t a bad thing. If you are trying to decide between 4 cores, 8 cores, 12 cores, or 16 cores, let the amount of RAM be your guide – look at the cost of 2GB per core, and pick the CPU accordingly.

UPDATE: Some of the feedback I’m getting on Twitter seems to believe that this points to Premiere Pro needing extreme amounts of RAM. No – that’s not it at all. RAM needs to be balanced with number of Cores. The days of just “getting the best CPU” are past. Modern processors are actually multiple CPUs on a single chip, and each one needs to allocate its own chunk of RAM to operate at peak efficiency.

On a dual core processor, 4GB of RAM is a reasonable amount of RAM to have, and 6-8 GB would be pushing into that “it ain’t a bad thing” category. A 4-core processor runs great on 8GB of RAM, which is what I have in my MacBook Pro. RAM is really cheap nowadays – I think I just paid about USD$40 for 8 GB on my son’s computer, and 16GB is less than $80 right now for a desktop system. Remember, it’s about balance, people…

SECOND UPDATE: If you’re an old Classic Auto tinkerer, like I used to be, think of it this way – the CPU is like the engine block, and the cores are the number of cylinders. Each cylinder needs fuel and air delivered to it. RAM is like the carburetor – it provides what the cylinders need. But, you have to match the right carburetor for the size of the engine. A wimpy carburetor on a V8 engine is a disaster – low horsepower, and because it’s heavier, it’ll be outperformed by a properly tuned 4-cylinder engine.

Clear as mud? :-)

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